Western Australia is one of the best places in the world to see whales as they migrate up and down the coast. Rules apply to whale watching, and it is important to follow these to ensure whales are protected and continue to visit our coastline. It is also one of the few places you can swim with humpback whales, but only on a tour with a licensed operator in Ningaloo Marine Park.

approach zone

Rules for whale watching

  • Only operators with vessels licensed by Parks and Wildlife are to run commercial vessel tours involving whale watching in WA's marine parks.
  • People on private vessels (including everything from surfboards and kayaks to yachts and launches) do not require whale watching licences, but must adhere to these rules and guidelines governing whale watching.
  • Aircraft are not permitted to fly within 300m of a whale and helicopters 500m, except with special authorisation. 
  • Aerial devices (including remotely piloted aircraft and drones) may not approach closer than 60m.
  • Swimming with, feeding or touching whales is not permitted. Such actions may cause stress to the whale and are dangerous to people. If you are in the water and a whale approaches, you must endeavour to keep a minimum of 100m distance between yourself and the whale.
  • No vessel, whether powered by a motor, paddle or sail, may approach closer than 300m within a 60-degree arc to the front or rear of the whale, or 100m to the side of the whale. This is called the separation distance and it must always be observed including when a vessel is underway, drifting or anchored.
  • Whales are naturally curious so where a whale approaches a vessel and the distance between the whale and vessel becomes less than the separation distance, the person in charge of the vessel must seek to maintain the separation distance by either:
    • switching off the vessel, or putting the vessel into neutral, or otherwise disengaging any other means of propulsion, until the distance between the vessel and the fauna is at least the separation distance; or
    • moving the vessel away from the whale —
      • at a speed not exceeding 6 knots; and
      • until the distance between the vessel and the fauna is at least the separation distance.
  • It is not appropriate for a person in charge of a vessel to breach separation distance by choosing to switch the vessel off or putting it into neutral where it is safe to move the vessel away at a speed not exceeding 6 knots.
  • A vessel must not block the direction of travel of a whale, or any passage of escape available to a whale, from an area where escape is otherwise prevented by a barrier, shallow water, vessel or some other obstacle to the whale’s free passage.
  • A vessel master must abandon any interactions with a whale at any sign of the whale becoming disturbed or alarmed.
  • A person in charge of a vessel must abandon any interactions with a whale at any sign of the whale becoming disturbed or alarmed.
  • A vessel must not cause a whale to alter its direction or speed of travel.
  • A vessel must not disperse a group of whales.

Remember

If whales are diving for prolonged periods or swimming evasively, you are disturbing and upsetting them. Leave them alone. It is an offence to harass whales, and they may permanently abandon an area if frequently disturbed.

Further information